Tag: <span>TICAD</span>

I’m still tweaking my presentation for the Technical Communications UK conference, Thursday morning is looming larger and larger in my view so I’m distracting myself with considering the other good things that happen at conferences.

For me people are the primary reason for attending a conference. Don’t get me wrong, the value can be measured by the quality of the speakers and the information provided, but that tends to be transitory, so it’s the connections you make that count in the longer term.

I’m lucky that I’ve met some of the people I know through this blog, and I’m hoping to add to that tally this week. Part of me did consider trying to organise a little “meetup” of bloggers in attendance but I think I’ll leave it down to fate, I’d hate to NOT meet someone because I was concentrating on one small part of the crowd.

At times attending industry conferences can be a bit of a guilty pleasure, it’s only after the first hour or so you realise that yes, you CAN make jokes about the kerning on the dinner menu, or laugh at yet another example of Microsoft Word being helpful. It’s also acceptable to spend your entire lunch discussing whether audience surveys are a good thing, and whether you actually need to learn XML or not.

Obviously the presentations will drive some of the topics of discussion, but (and admittedly this is usual over dinner and a small beverage or two) conversation with your peers can lead to all sorts of other things. Chess boxing being one memorable conversation from a couple of years ago at TICAD.

So, despite still not being quite sure what the final form my presentation will take (I may also adapt it on Wednesday evening to reflect back on the speakers of the day) and not being 100% sure how I’ll get from the airport to the hotel (bus? taxi?), I’m starting to get a bit excited.

There will be a blog post published here on Thursday morning to coincide with my presentation, and I’ve no doubt I, and several others, will Twitter our way through the conference.

If you see me at the conference (I’m kinda hoping at least one or two people turn up for my presentation!) then rest assured, as long as you have either a coffee or a Guinness in your hand for me, I’m very likely to welcome you with a big smile.

Work

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As I mentioned previously, the opening presentation at TICAD was by Adobe and featured their vision of the future of Technical Communications and information development. Apparently that future includes video.

Video has been available to many for a few years now, yet it is never really the main focus of a documentation team. Tom has questioned this as well:

“For too long I’ve minimized the importance of the audiovisual. Captivate — the industry standard tool for creating screen demos — is actually a relatively simple application. Mastering it and integrating audiovisual into user help will take it to the next level.”

This echoes what Adobe suggest, no big surprise there, but I have to admit that I don’t fully agree.

As a quick learning tool, I’m sure videos (screen demos) are useful, but I wouldn’t really know as I’ve never used one as a primary source for learning about a product and I’m not sure I know anyone who has. Of course that’s not to say they don’t have value and with some research into the intended audience I’m sure it can be proven that they have a valid place in the product documentation set.

However my initial thoughts on the matter are hard to shake.

It may be one of the unwritten rules of documentation, the rules that few people question and may well be inaccurately applied, but I’ve always operated under the assumption that people only use the documentation when they are stuck.

Of course this is a broad sweeping statement but I believe that it is true for the majority of software users. So, if that is the case, what is their mindset when they finally give in (having asked a co-worker and searched Google to no avail) and fire up the online help or open the user guide? Typically they will be annoyed and want an answer or fix pretty damn sharpish.

Why, in that case, would they even consider sitting through a 2 minute video that explains how to use the functionality with which they are currently battling?

To be fair, Tom isn’t suggesting this approach but I think it’s wise to counsel against this trend lest it be used too heavily. A few short demos of how to complete core tasks, accompanied by a comprehensive help system or user guide is the best balance.

My fear is that the “cool” effect will override sensibilities and we’ll be plagued by popup videos and worse in the future.

The written word certainly isn’t the only way to effectively communicate information, and as technology progresses we will all need to carefully match the available delivery mechanisms with the information we need to deliver. The key word here is “carefully”.

I’d love to hear from anyone who is already doing something like this, I’ve not used Captivate, nor offered any form of video as part of a documentation set before as they didn’t match the audience profile but I’d be interested in hearing how successful they were.

Tech Work

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Pre-Conference Dinner
The first day of a conference is always a little awkward, introducing yourself to complete strangers is always fraught with danger. So a ‘mingle’ activity is a nice idea, particularly as the TICAD conference makes some play of the networking opportunities, and the an informal dinner beforehand certainly made the following day a little easier. As it turns out I bumped into someone who worked at a sister company of my previous employers (it’s a whole complicated one company, then two companies, then one company thing), and we traded some names and stories.

Dinner was good, with many laughs and thought provoking conversation the kind of thing you get when you dine with a bunch of smart, friendly people. One topic which cropped up, and naturally I can’t recall why (did I mention the wine?) was Chess Boxing. Yes, that’s right, Chess Boxing. It was new to me as well.

The Conference itself is aimed at TechPubs managers and was celebrating its 10th year. Organised by ITR it has a focus on translation issues but is largely a TechComms focussed day. I’d heard of TICAD before but this was my first time both attending, and speaking at, the conference. The day was split into four sessions, the third comprising of two breakout sessions, the others more standard presentations. I took notes for all of the presentations but skipped the breakout sessions to go over my own presentation one more time.

Convergence in technical communications
The opening session was kicked off by Mark Wheeler of Adobe, and despite being fairly much a product pitch, it did outline Adobe’s thoughts concerning the convergence of various areas, with internal documentation, public documentation, Help systems, Knowledge Bases, training material and Demos all becoming more and more closely linked. All share similar traits, they all rely on high quality content for example, and organisations are beginning to realise the benefits of sharing information across these areas.

Part of the presentation did flummox me somewhat, and whilst it may have be a cool demo feature I do question the reality of usage. The idea presented was that by using embedded content within a document or help system, you could launch a video or “better still” initiate a text chat session or VOIP call to a support operative to help you with your current issue. Now, my belief is that, for that scenario, people want to get OUT of the help a.s.a.p. Why on earth would I want to sit through a video, or talk to someone and have to explain my issue, when all I want to do is get on with my work?

Naturally the focus was on the new Technical Communication Suite and overall it does look like it adds some value and will be of huge benefit to many technical communications teams. But then demos ALWAYS look good, don’t they…

Adapting structured documentation and DITA
When I saw this presentation listed in the agenda I marked it as one to attend. We are currently heading down the DITA path ourselves and Thomas promised to share some of the issues and pitfalls he and his team had come across. His presentation was excellent and hugely informative. A quietly spoken American, who was at our table for dinner, he covered everything I had hoped and more.

He covered the guidelines they had to put in place for help the writers cope with the move to structured authoring, including their 5 Glorious Principles (and yes I will be ‘borrowing’ this idea), namely that when writing topics:

  1. Standalone chunking – create discrete chunks that contain only information about the topic/type.
  2. Labelling – Titles are explicit, describe the topic (this also stops conceptual phrases like “this section contains” and so on).
  3. Relevance – the content matches the topic.
  4. Consistency – topics are written in the same way.
  5. Reuse – topics are written once and can be used many times.

Working in a large organisation they found they had to hire a dedicated Documentation Product Manager, to coordinate and liase with Technical Publications, Training, Marketing and all other information creators. They also hired a dedicated architect to manage their DTD.

Outlining the drivers for their change, with localisation being the biggest (numerical) business reason, he talked through the planning stages, and admitted that they decided to stick to topic-level reuse rather than ‘conref’ level reuse (in theory you can reuse any single element, so a paragraph or list can be used in multiple topics) although that is something they are currently addressing. As a path to ease the pain of migration it is likely we will do the same, so it’s good to hear others taking the same route.

Technical English made simple
I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this presentation, but was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly as it was focussed more on maintenance style procedures, for hardware, then the suggestions didn’t always apply to a more software oriented team writing (or moving towards writing) in a task based style, there were still many valid points to take home.

Amongst the commonly held truisms, such as writing with an active rather than passive voice, Maria expanded on these topics with several examples, and the basic premise that most technical documentation is easier to read, less ambiguous, and easier to translate, if you simply consider each sentence and make sure you are assigning the task to the reader.

At present we don’t translate our docmentation but I am more than aware that someday, soon, we will be asked to do so. Some of the suggestions made by Maria will form part of new guidelines as we adapted our writing style to be more translation friendly.

In-country translations
Helen Eckersley, of iTR, gave a presentation which I didn’t think I’d take that much from. Focussing on getting the most from the people who review translated material it largely followed general practise for making the most of any kind of review, technical, linguistic or otherwise.

However, as it the way of things, it’s always good to get a reminder of such things, and similarly to Maria’s presentation I did gleen some information that, if put in place, should make translation of our documentation a whole lot easier.

Helen touched on linguistic assets, containing glossaries of approved terms (cross-language), translation memories, style rules for acronyms, product names and so on. All things we can consider now and start to build ourselves.

Using Wikis for Collaborative Authoring
Some Scottish bloke stood up and waffled on about Wikis, illicited the odd smile and largely left everyone bemused.

Vision of the future
The final speaker was Bernard Aschwanden, who I saw present at X-Pubs earlier this year. He is an animated, charismatic and passionate speaker and was given somewhat of a free reign to pull together his Vision of the Future.

He opened with a video, one which I think I’ve linked to before and which still bears repeat viewing.

Frankly the video is enough to get the synapses firing but building on that, Bernad took us back through the history of Publishing, from the first clay tablets, past the Guttenberg Bible all the way to Playboy. He tracked back through the advances in the past 100 years of technology, and then headed into the future.

Breaking things down into two sections, the first of which dealt with the coming 5-10 years, Bernard offered his take on where the traditional Publishing processes would take us. The basic premise is the same, regardless of the timescale, but the way in which information is handled and managed will change. For example, at present we spend a lot of time fudging with DTP packages to get information into a form that is legibile for our readers, in the next 5-10 years that will no longer be an issue (it’s already not an issue for some people publishing from a CMS system, where the template is applied and any layout errors automatically dealt with by the software.

He then tackled 25-100 years and whilst at first some of his premises seemed laughable – pulling the uploading of information from the movie The Matrix for example – he quickly reminded us of the change in technology in the last 100 years.

However, one thing remains true and becomes crucial in the future. All of the sources of knowledge really on people to check and validate the information on which it is built. Those people are the technical authors of today and in 10, 25 or 100 years from now, we will be in a far more powerful position than we are today. Bear that in mind the next time you ask for a raise!

All in all a fascinating presentation which I’m not doing justice. If you ever get the chance to see Bernard speak, do so. You can always tell when people are passionate about something, and he also has the knowledge to back that up.

My final thoughts
Sitting, as I am, on the train on the way home, it’s easy to pontificate about the things I’ve learned. Everyone returns to work after such an event, with a little extra enthusiasm and grand plans for change. However this time I do genuinely feel that there are things I will take from this conference that I WILL put into action, some of them require little extra work but can have huge benefits, others will need more contemplation but are equally valid.

The conference was very slick and well organised, credit to Tanya, Sally and all the other guys and gals from ITR, they certainly made it a very relaxing experience for me, very much appreciated as it was my first time as a speaker.

If you are a team lead, a manager, or have any sort of big picture thinking about Technical Communications then I highly recommend you head along to TICAD next year, you’ll find something of interest without doubt.

Hopefully I’ll see you there.

Work

A big hello to anyone visiting from the TICAD conference. I’m writing this post in advance of the conference itself (the joys of scheduled publishing), so hopefully my presentation went well and you found it useful. I hope the page of links I mentioned is of some use to you and anyone else who pondering whether or not a Wiki lies in the future of their organisation (yes, it does!).

The very act of pulling the presentation together has been both fun and educational for me, it has helped me fully understand some things I took for granted and hopefully that is reflected in my words. My thoughts on the experience, and the rest of the conference sessions, will be posted here soon.

If you are visiting from the TICAD conference, please leave a comment, any and all thoughts, feedback and criticisms are encouraged.

Work

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OK, I’m not really, I have a tendency to mumble and, being Scottish, I talk faster than most (I put this down to the speed at which Scottish women talk, you have to be fast to get a word in edgeways.. ). My mind wanders off topic quite easily and I tend to try off-the-cuff jokes. However I have given a presentation to a room full of strangers before but this time I may not be the only expert in the room…

These are all things I know I need to be aware of on Wednesday when I give my presentation on “Using Wikis for Collaborative Authoring” to the TICAD conference attendees.

However, I think my presentation is OK. It’s not going to “knock ’em dead”, I don’t think, but I think I’ve pitched it right and hopefully I won’t trip myself up too often. I’m going to run through it twice more before Wednesday and, as yet, I’m not hugely nervous about it. I know the topic well enough, and I think I could even talk through it if the conference system fails so that should stand me in some good stead. Mind you, ask me that at 3pm on Wednesday and I’m sure you’ll get a different answer. Still, I know that is all part of the experience and I have to admit I am genuinely looking forward to it.

It is a little odd, as this is my first time as a conference speaker, to be on the ‘other side’ of a conference and I’m not really that sure what to expect. My slot is right after the ‘breakout’ sessions, with a coffee break preceding me and the rather awesome Bernard Aschwanden following me. Which reminds me that I must ask him about the theme of his session “A Vision of the Future” as I’m slightly wary of treading on his toes (he’s shorter than me though so it’s not too much of an issue…).

Still, at least I’m not right after lunch.

If you are coming along to the conference, then please say hello. I’ll be there from Tuesday evening at the pre-conference dinner, and I’ll most definitely be in the bar on Wednesday evening. Mine’s a Guinness.

Work

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In my hangover fug I’ve been thinking about stuff wot needs to get done.

One of those things is to sort out my WordPress install as the recent upgrade has left it littered with errors. It seems to be working OK but… well.. it’s annoying.

Other than that, with the bulk of last week concentrated on Louise and her new job, there’s loads to do in the house. Nothing major, but a small pile of “stuff” has slowly grown and needs dealt with.

I’ve also got my presentation for the TICAD conference to hand in this week.

So, I’m going to dial back on my ‘online’ activities this week. Not disappearing but less conspicuous. Maybe. You know how it is…

Life

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A sudden holiday is all well and good but the shift in time, and the fact that we don’t return until October, pushes timescales the wrong way. Admittedly said timescales are all of my own making but still, I don’t like rushing things.

Today is a typical example. I’m working at home as the car is in the garage to get an intermittent clunking noise investigated, and I’ve got the dental hygienist later on today. I’ve had to go to the post office to pick up my new oneman business cards, only to find they’d been ‘re-delivered’ (despite what the card through the door said!) and I got a letter in today reminding me that my household insurance runs out at the end of the month. You know, whilst we are in Spain.

The presentation I’m giving at the TICAD conference needs to be handed in by the 19th October, and a customer at work would like an early cut of the documentation I’m working on (that won’t be complete until December) next week. Typical.

I still have some CSS work to complete for someone, a new template for another, and thankfully the other two websites that are on the horizon are staying there, so at least I don’t need to worry about them whilst lying in the sun (yes, I would!).

In saying that, I wasted far too much time twittering like a pirate yesterday (with Lyle’s annoyance only spurring me on!) and flitted between sporadic bouts of work and the footie on TV last night.

Thankfully packing for the holiday isn’t a big deal, shouldn’t take me more than 15 mins. That’s the advantage of knowing where we’ll be eating and drinking when we get there, and knowing that I don’t even need to bother with a shirt. 9 days of shorts and t-shirts (maybe not at night though).

In other news I’ve just “discovered” Jeff Buckley’s album, Grace. I’ve no idea why it’s taken me so long.. actually I do, it’s the cover of the album, just used to put me off for some reason. What a voice that man has.

I’ve also installed, but have yet to play with, a little firmware update for my camera. Totally unsupported of course, but a friend with the same camera (Canon Powershot S3) reports it works well. Something to do whilst lying in the sun then! Which reminds me, I must get some new stuff on my iPod… ohh and books.. which books?! Eeeep, PANIC!!

Life

TICAD 2007 ~ Gosh, who’s that 5th from the top…

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